The HSE has published its plan for tackling the overcrowding crisis in hospitals around the country this winter.
It comes just days after the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) recorded 679 people waiting for beds in Irish hospitals – the highest number so far this year.
The figure, reported on Tuesday 5th November, was the second highest the nursing union has ever recorded.
The INMO General Secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha warned that Ireland’s hospitals were “overwhelmed” before winter had even started.
She said the overcrowding crisis is “simply a question of capacity and staffing.”
“The HSE’s recruitment freeze simply has to go,” she said. “We need an infusion of qualified, frontline staff to stabilise the health service.
“Without it, this problem will rapidly accelerate as we move into winter.”
The union recorded 571 patients waiting for beds this morning – with the highest numbers recorded at Limerick, Galway and Cork hospitals.
The HSE has been given an extra €26m to roll out its Winter Plan until the end of the year.
The plan will focus on:
- Reducing hospital admissions
- Providing community care
- Minimising in-patient stays
- Improving access to diagnostics
- Transferring older patients from acute hospitals to community facilities
HSE Chief Operations Officer Anne O’Connor said: “We are focused this winter on ensuring that patients are provided with the appropriate care to meet their needs as quickly as possible.
“Building on the lessons learned from last winter, we will have a number of initiatives with a particular focus on the timely discharge of patients from hospital to appropriate care in the community including home care, step-down/transitional care or long term care.”
She said officials have planning ways to prepare for the winter rush since July.
The HSE said there has been a 4% increase in patients attending Ireland Emergency Departments this year.
Meanwhile, the number of patients waiting to be transferred from acute hospitals to other care settings has increased by 20% this year.
“This significantly impacts hospitals capacity to admit new patients and therefore waiting times in Emergency Departments have been longer than we would wish,” it said.
Last year’s Winter Plan focused on nine key sites and this year it is being rolled out countrywide.
Dr Vida Hamilton, HSE National Clinical Advisor Acute Hospitals said a “significant number” of patients find themselves in Emergency Departments because they are not using their medicines or devices such as inhalers correctly.
“I would encourage all of these patients living with a chronic condition such as asthma, COPD, diabetes and heart conditions to take some time now to check with their pharmacist and /or GP to ensure they know their medicines and devices and are taking them and using them correctly,” she said.
“Hand-washing is also vitally important to prevent the spread of viruses and infection.”
Following the publication, Green Party health spokesperson Dr Séamus Mc Menamin warned that the crisis cannot be addressed without solving the recruitment and retention crises in General Practice, in consultant posts and in nursing.
“Patients on trolleys are by definition patients who have been seen and assessed as needing admission,” he said.
“This can only be addressed by increasing bed capacity and having doctors and nurses in post to look after them.”
Earlier this week, the INMO warned that over 100,000 patients had already gone without a bed in Ireland’s hospitals so far this year.